This past week I parked my car in Kingston in a public lot off Grand Street, right behind the former Planet Wings, a site currently under construction by the city to provide a more attractive, less confusing, and, we hope, safer intersection for vehicles and pedestrians. Regrettably, I felt about as unsafe that day as I ever had in my adopted city of 23 years.
Staring me in the face when I got out of my car was a white Silverado truck plastered with symbols of hatred and racism — including multiple stars and bars, a “F*** Joe” sticker (with the F-bomb spelled out in full), and a stick-figure man engaging a stick-figure woman from behind while she grasped an ATV. Because of the truck’s size, the symbols were unavoidable.
The driver of the truck, a member of the work crew, was wearing a yellow vest. I observed him walk from the truck back to a circle of his all-white, mostly male co-workers. Had any of the others noticed his truck? Had any of them spoken with him?
I briefly considered a conversation with this man, but I, a 60-year-old white woman, was afraid. What would the danger have been for me compared to the real danger that our BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and People Of Color] community members face every day in this society?
Perhaps if I’d engaged I would have been yelled at. Maybe, just maybe, though — and this was at the back of my mind — the guy was armed.
Convincing myself that I was not safe, I snapped pictures and sent them off to mayor Steve Noble with an angry statement about “my tax dollars” supporting city workers who display such hateful imagery.
Yes, I know. A very white move, because I knew I would get a response. And the mayor did respond, almost immediately. I was informed that the truck belonged to a man who was a contractor or worked for one, not a city employee. He said the man was asked to move his truck out of the lot.
But out of sight is not out of mind. That Silverado is parked somewhere in our community, and that man’s hate is still hanging like a cloud over all of us, as is our continued white silence. I can’t shake those images, those words — and the shame of my fear about not confronting him when so many BIPOC people and their white allies have put their lives on the line to stand up for justice, for love, for a better community.
And, yes, I know we have the First Amendment. We’ve been taught to believe we must protect even the most hateful speech if we are to protect the speech we care about.
I’m not sure that it’s possible to operate within that paradigm any more. While I understand what we are protecting, whom are we protecting when white folks (including myself) protect such extreme hate either by turning the other cheek or by sending in a weak-ass complaint about our tax dollars?
Then again, maybe I had reason to be fearful of the driver of the Silverado. I am feeling fear even as I write these words. I am thinking of how they will be read by community members who see hate and vulgarity as the solution to difference (whether political or racial), people like the owner of the house on Wrentham Street in the Town of Ulster, similarly plastered with hate, who recently told Daily Freeman correspondent William Kemble that the First Amendment gave him the right “to address my government as I see fit.” He added, “I don’t care about the neighbors or kids or anything.”
Is not caring about anything at the heart of white violence? How will the First Amendment save us? How many more insurrections, or police killings of unarmed BIPOC people, or church massacres, or Tiki-torch parades must we suffer?
I don’t have answers, not like I once thought I did. I don’t know how to navigate bravely this new world. It’s one thing to read about this kind of vitriol happening “elsewhere.” It’s another to witness it living among us.
— Charlotte Adamis
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